Lifeforce Chapter 31
“It is a strange thing, but when you are dreading something, and would give anything to slow down time, it has a disobliging habit of speeding up.”
― J.K. Rowling,
Dread for What Has Already Passed
You could always find Ickabar. Over a crowd of a thousand heads; a sea of uniformed cadets, an ocean of people. If you dressed and positioned every lombax on the planet in the exact same way, you could always find Ickabar. There he was; the purple one with the funny curvy ear markings, and the ghostly eyes. The one looking like he doesn't even realize he's there.
But this time that was not the case. And lo and behold, it was on the day where he was absolutely, positively, meant to be there. Fergus grumbled in exasperation, shoving aside the curtain leading to the backrooms of the building. No doors here; everything was smooth walls and curtains. He supposed the familiar everyday 'whoosh' sound wasn't exactly fitting to this kind of event. Imagine the ceremony being cut short by that noise...
He moved down the lonely, shadowy hall to the dressing rooms, pushing through the half-open door. Clutters of barely used brushes and hair-trimmers lay in a messy manner, as if they'd been used to fiddle with rather than their appointed task. And there he spotted a familiar tuff of purple huddled on a stool beside the desk; hands on his knees, shoulders hunched. Seeing Ickabar so nicely dressed was odd; he wasn't a messy person or a fan of baggy clothing, but he hadn't ever worn a black suite, shirt and tie. Pale blue; his fiancé probably thought it matched him. His shoulder belt hung there beside it; its round disk gleaming dimly in the light.
"...So this is where you've been hiding." Fergus remarked plainly. Ickabar didn't budge, he gave no indication he'd even heard him. Fergus sat beside him slowly; his scruffier shirt and tie flopping with him. Wearing these useless black suit trousers and this shirt was as far as he'd go in fancy terms. Ickabar swallowed; his throat trembling with effort. He stared ahead.
Fergus didn't smirk or laugh. He had no lifting jokes. "...Usually it's the wife that gets the jitters. Then again, nothing's cliché where you're concerned."
Ickabar said nothing still.
Fergus heaved a sigh. "I'm no expert on relationships, and heck, I've never been to a wedding. But I guess if thousands of people have done it already through this God-Forsaken Galaxy's history...then you can as well."
"I love her, Fergus. More than anything. I look at her and..." Ickabar sounded helpless, almost pleading. Fergus glanced sideways at him. "But...but I don't even know why I feel like this. I don't know why I feel anything. I've never felt so happy...so why...?"
"..." Fergus turned his eyes to gaze at the wall before them. "Maybe you're just not used to being happy."
Ickabar's ears lifted gently, and his a-jar mouth closed, his wide eyes softening. As if a case of ice around him had melted just a little. Slowly, his head shifted around and he finally looked at Fergus, the latter glancing back, his face still set in that half-frown of indifference. Ickabar gave a small, hesitant smile, a soft huff of something that was just the spark of a laugh emitting from his throat. Fergus returned a half-grin, briefly, and Ickabar stood.
He smoothed back the strands of hair that defied his neat head. Fergus stood, dusting off his hands from habit, and shoved him along out of the room. Leo was there, grinning and finding this situation far more normal than either of them. Wedding jitters were all he saw, taking Ickabar's shoulders and directing his now smiling form down the hall, releasing him from Fergus's rougher prodding. In the light waited the crowd, and Duck with the pillow with the rings as the page boy. And his future wife, waiting patiently, perhaps one of the only ones who also knew what was really going through Ickabar's mind.
The line and the road to the alter seemed to glow as gold as the sun when the vows where said, and Ickabar and Jana's hands met and they spun in an exhilarated dance as laughter swam around them among the applause. It wasn't the words or the repeated phrases that they would remember, but Ickabar and his wife spinning in each other's arms, peaceful yet elated, their hands webbed together like delicate threads.
Then they parted, as if by a gust of wind back into the arms of friends and family; hands shaking, hugs exchanged. Ickabar felt hands petted his shoulders; the archaeologists from his group at the Asteroid Base where beside him; Marlo's pink face full of chortles, Boddo repeating his congratulations over and over, and Canter just trying to get a word in edgeways. Duck was gently tugging at his hand, Leo chattering behind him about the future. Fergus hovered beside them both, hands in his pockets, his shoulders slumped in apparent boredom. Ickabar could see the smirk stuck on his face, as if he was wondering if this was some alcohol-induced apparition rather than real life. Ickabar Locksher had married.
Ickabar felt another, smaller yet sturdier hand slip into is, and looked up to grin back at Kaden, barely able to hear him over the voices, but he knew that he was congratulating him, too. Kaden's hand left his, then, and Ickabar turned his head...without knowing why.
He felt the fibres of his being freeze, then melt, then warm all in the same moment. The breath was gone from him, yet he said nothing and moved no muscle. In the shadows of the doorway in the right corner, over the heads of various acquaintances bustling in the light, stood a figure that jarred him to the core. Raymas Lars stood in the shade, clapping his hands slowly and softly, his eyes soft and half-lidded as if watching a gentle fire, warmth so familiar and heartbreaking in his eyes that it almost made Ickabar buckle.
His grin was gone, but his happiness was not. He felt something in him, buried deep, lift and transform from a weight into a light feeling in his ribs that he couldn't explain. It made him feel as if he was flying. He smiled, softly, back at Raymas in a silence only the two of them could experience.
Ickabar glanced behind him, just for a split second, before his eyes met his again. Slowly, their smiles slipped, but did not vanish even then. The sorrow, small and faint, could not overcome the bursting joy that he felt and that engulfed this place. But it was there all the same.
Ratchet knew who they were thinking about. Who had not come, and who was being missed.
Ratchet didn't know how long he'd knelt there, in front of the demolished wall and rusted kitchen that had once housed a loving family. He could feel his legs starting to numb and ache from the stiffness. Slowly, he pushed himself up, his head bent. The yellow lombax stared down at the cracked photo-frame in his hands; his grip tight to the point of his fingertips becoming bloodless and cold. Suddenly the vacancy on this planet's surface wasn't just imposing, not just a weight. It was near suffocating. He felt a lump clogging his throat.
What did this memories hold that could help him? Ickabar deserved remembrance, yes, but how did seeing the happiness he had help him avenge him, avenge them all? It felt almost mocking, seeing how naive and unaware they all where. How Ickabar had been sad that Tachyon hadn't come to his wedding. Closer and closer he got to that stupid tree, yet his questions only grew.
I'll end up going nuts like this. I don't understand. How does this help me? How does this help me stop Tachyon- stop them all?
No answer came to him. Ratchet exhaled slowly through his nose, and turned away from the destroyed kitchen, and moved back into the hall by the door.
His shoe hit against something smooth and round. Ratchet looked down. A rattle, dented and dusty, lay by his foot. I jingled softly as he picked it up.
Ratchet stared at it. Ickabar's children. Marlo had said nothing. If Ickabar had children...then...
He screwed his eyes shut, and tried not to think of it. But it turned out he had no choice.
Ickabar crept giddily up the hill and he was barely able to contain his excitement. He forced it on himself, though. It resulted in him practically jumping on the spot whenever he paused. He tip-toed around the tree, gripping the envelope merrily like a child with a picture to show their parents. Fergus was reading a book, a frown (not surprisingly) with his cheek resting on his palm. Ickabar moved over.
Fergus's ear twitched. "I'm not in the mood for it, Icky." He commented, "Whatever surprise it is, it can wait 'till later."
"Oh, but this is beyond any of the others." Ickabar said slowly, eyeing the back of Fergus's head intently. Fergus sighed in slight frustration.
"Just as long as- "The envelope was opened, and its contents, a simple square sheet of paper, lowered itself in front of Fergus's face. Ickabar let it slip into his hands and began trotting off, letting the bomb tick its way to the countdown's end. Fergus stared at it, face hard and disbelieving. Then his eyes widened, and widened, and his face swapped into alarm, exasperation and even more disbelief. "...You can't be serious!"
In his hand was ultrasound scan picture, of a little form with tiny hands and feet, and little ears in a distinct shape that Fergus saw everyday of his life. Yet it seemed so very, very impossible.
Ickabar beamed at him in overflowing happiness, his voice light. "I'm going to be a father!" He spun around, whooping like an idiot. "It's the most amazing – you have no idea...It's just..."
Fergus gaped at him incredulously. "You're kidding me...!"
"Nope." Ickabar chortled. He danced off before Fergus could question him further, as Fergus had absolutely no idea what to think or feel. The first things where that Ickabar, the biggest child-at-heart person he knew and who was barely into his twenties, was having a child. Ickabar freaking squared.
He didn't know if he should congratulate him or beat him senseless for stupidity. He staggered after him, holding the photo, other hand outstretched as he tried to catch up, his words stumbling right along with him in angry exclamations,
"Hang on a minute, we have to talk – Icky, where're you going! 'Ey! Get back here...!"
He intended to leave. He tried not to look at anything else.
But his eyes caught the first step of the staircase. He looked almost without meaning to. "..." The upstairs landing was dark, and he couldn't even see the outlines of any doors. It was growing darker outside; the gorgeous sunset adorning the deserted planet outside. It made Ratchet's stomach turn. Ignoring the outside, yet dreading the inside, Ratchet hesitantly placed a boot on the first step. He heard no creak, surprisingly. He inwardly sighed to himself. What, did he expect a holo-film creak, maybe the wind whistling spookily with the ghost of his past?
Happy to hear some of his own witty remarks in his mind again, he slowly ascended. The silence was too much, almost, and he was glad for the sound of his footsteps. The landing was narrow, with doors on each side; various rooms. Perhaps he could find a study, or somewhere Ickabar worked.
Ratchet made his way to the door at the end of the hall, and opened it, forcing himself to quicken. He poked his head in, and froze all over again. Untouched, and coated in dust once again. I desk piled with books and scribble-covered paper; pictures, runes and diagrams pinned on the walls. It almost reminded him of Alistair's hollow, though more...cosy. An empty mug lay on the desk, long forgotten. It still had coffee beans lying inside, waiting for the boiling water from the kettle that would never arrive.
Ratchet felt more out of place than he ever had in his life. He stared over the walls once more, noting the markings again, but something caught his eye. A drawings. A child's drawing, messy and muddled. But he could make it out.
Purple, legless, shaped like an upside-down tear drop with arms. Sharp teeth and claw-like hands. A drawing of a Loki had been placed on the wall. Ratchet stared. What the heck? Ickabar's child had drawn this – but how could he possibly know what a Loki looked like so accurately...?
Ickabar studied Thora; he obviously would have come across the Loki. But still...it was unnerving. Ratchet stepped closer, peering at the fearsome creature. A morbid thing for a kid to draw, the malicious, spiked grin of the ghostly being would probably be accurate enough to send Qwark reeling in fright.
Ratchet felt something grip his throat, and for a second he thought someone had seized it – but his hands flew up to his neck and he found nothing but air...
Ickabar tapped his fingers together; each bony finger meeting its counterpart exactly. He focused on the movement of his hands, hearing nothing. No cries, no yells. They had asked him to leave, though he'd wanted to be there.
He waited, the clock ticking. Leo and Fergus would be here soon. Raymas was almost there. He ought to be. He was the Godfather after all.
Ickabar would have hardly noticed if they arrived. And he didn't; Raymas came in like a phantom, moving quietly to stand in front of him. It was only when he felt the touch of his hand on his shoulder did he move. Ickabar looked up, finally awakening from the spiraling fear. A little, that is.
"...Hello...how are you holding up?" Raymas murmured slowly. Almost carefully. Ickabar stared back, eyes wide, wondering what in the world it looked like. He certainly wasn't managing. He was losing his mind, he knew it. But he supposed this was as far as Raymas could go to making an encouraging speech. Now, at least. They had not been as they were as children after he left.
Fergus and Leo appeared at the end of the hall, moving far noisier, Fergus stern, Leo looking like he'd just come away from running in the gym. Duck was at their tail, soft fur messy and dark eyes wide with uncertainty.
They moved in, and Ickabar was surrounded by them. He swallowed, staring up at them. Leo offered a small, gentle smile. Ickabar was glad for it.
"I'll be all right."
His rough voice was so sure that Ickabar's anxiety dimmed just a little. But then he looked at Fergus, his brazen honestly the thing he always had to face. Fergus stared back, eyes narrowed, frowning as always. But then his features smoothened. "...I'm no psychic...but we wouldn't known by now if something was really wrong."
They heard the nurse call him, and Ickabar was on his feet. The anxiety evaporated, and suddenly, when he stood, he felt like he'd stepped out of a ship into a completely new planet. Out of the heat into the cold. Someone else had stood up. The Ickabar from seconds ago had faded away into memory.
Ickabar followed the nurse into the ward, and saw his beautifully wife, exhausted but smiling, strong and enduring, her hair spread out on her pillow – and holding out something small and bundled out to him. His arms reached out on their own accord, enveloping the bundle in his arms. So soft and warm, and so very tiny...
A little pink nose and tiny little ears flopped against a matching tiny head. Ickabar saw purple fur as dark as his own, but brown stripes decorating it, a whole new pattern. Miniature fists curled against the baby's chin, his chest lifting and falling with each breath. A tiny person, so fascinating...alive, and thinking, breathing...
The shaking breath that fell from his throat was barely a laugh, and his vision blurred. He felt alive. Ickabar felt sturdy, so sure yet so scared. Scared of what kind of father he'd be, what to do...yet so sure of one thing. He had a path now, a life, a purpose. His wife and son.
He sat down beside her and wrapped his arm around her; Jana's arms encased him.
Ickabar had never felt so warm.
Ratchet shuddered as he shook the memory away. Here in this place it felt like a sting to see such happiness. He felt different, too, but not in a good way. He didn't feel like himself.
His son had probably drawn this. Maybe another. He had no idea how many children he had, or how old they'd been when it happened. Ratchet swallowed, his throat aching. His children would have been here when the attack happened, when everything was destroyed. He didn't dare think about it.
Did Tachyon know?
Ratchet bit down on his lip. If he had, would he have gone out of his way to...?
Yes. He had to keep his head. Or what was left of it. He was sure Clank was booking him a cat-scan for when this mission was over. As if it could still be classified as a simple mission anymore. He just wanted it all to be over, to be able to lie down and sleep without fearing another one of those memories would plague his rest.
Ratchet shook his head and moved to the desk, shifting through paper. More markings, some notes on the Thora. He glanced over them. Years, long lifespan, healing-
He looked at that page, pulling it closer in the dim light. Just bullet-points. The network in which they are connected to is unlike anything we've encountered. Healing ability far beyond NanoTech- yet seems to hold the same structure according to research by 'D.E' whoever this researcher was. Perhaps it inspired it long ago? Lifeforce grants a lifespan that is unfathomable to us. Not water, not organic, not digital. The only thing closest to describing it is 'energy' and even then that's stretching it.
Ratchet raised a brow slowly. No kidding. D.E? More puzzles, great. His eyes darted around the lines impatiently.
Must look into these notes more. For some reason I feel unease.
Unease. Ratchet's ears flew up and he leaned down, snatching up the next piece of paper. His pupils shrunk in slight alarm. He could almost feel the panic radiating off the paper; Ickabar's writing was barely comprehensible. The purple lombax had been writing fast.
Something is wrong, very wrong. I never could have expected this, but what else could I have, researching something as powerful as this- but I never thought it could be so close after being so dormant, for so very long. Something is inside the Lifeforce, my presumptions of its sea-like network may be true, but I thought it as a thing without dominance. Or perhaps it was, once, but not anymore.
I understand now, why all those who researched it stopped short, stopped and packed everything away.
I've sent word out to my colleagues. It must stay hidden.
It can't wake up.
Ratchet had never felt scared like this before. Nor had he felt so utterly panicked, as the realization pounded into him like a heavy bell toll. In the memories, something had been there. Something that had called to him in that vision where the light had beckoned him but something else called him back. Something that got closer and closer with each vision, hovering behind Ickabar's memories. The sheer unease of knowing something had been gradually getting closer and closer made Ratchet shudder.
He let the notes slide from his hands back onto the desk.
What the heck is this...?
Something flashed. Ratchet looked up so quickly that his neck's muscle seared with pain. His heart leaped. Behind the office door that he had just come in through, a blue light gleamed from the outlines. Ratchet felt fear, actually fear, surge through him. He at least knew that everything else he faced could be hit!
And it faded, moving away. Ratchet's fear melted and he sped towards the door, his arm knocking it open – the light had fluttered back down the stairs. Ratchet, his heart pounding in his ears, gave chase, almost toppling down the stairs.
It slid out the door as easily as a gust of wind. Ratchet slid through, tripping slightly, but continued running, the urgency not to lose it making his head spin. It took him away a little, down a path away from the house and the field, but despite this he didn't give up. He could go back; he just needed to know where it was going.
He passed a slightly different route. Piles of rubble towered around him. The floating light ahead was slowing down. Ratchet stared, slowly coming to a halt. The light had shrunk to just a little gleam hovering above him.
And Ratchet looked behind it. His heart sank.
The land before him was completely flat, no buildings, no roads. Flattened by the massacre; a wasteland right in the middle of the city. Here, he knew, Tachyon's machines and troopers had stamped through, destroying everything and everyone in their way. The mounds of rubble and dirt looped like dunes of sand.
Ratchet wanted to vomit. This is where the most horrible of memories took place. This is where Tachyon had marched through on his throne, leading the horde. Where that person clawed through the ashes on his stomach. Where the child had screamed. Where Ickabar had seen the cragmite through the smoke, coming closer and closer to where he stood.
This was the place that ran with their blood.
You should have seen the looks on their faces, lombax. When poor little Percival rose gloriously with his army; the drophids raining DOWN upon Fastoon- with weapons designed by their own scientists! I was no longer their charity case, I was Emperor Tachyon!
Ratchet clenched his fists. The hate made the nausea burn like paper set alight. But it drained him. He couldn't make a sound, kick anything. Slowly, the anger lessened, but didn't vanish. It left him in a state of despair and turmoil he knew he wasn't going to get out of. Not until this ended, and not until he knew exactly what happened.
He'd been led a little further away from the hill. But perhaps there was some warped reason, according to the Lifeforce.
"...Almost there." He murmured. That's what it seemed. He was almost glad for it. To get the worst over with, even if it tore him apart to witness. Maybe he'd changed his mind when it actually happened...
The little light above him shimmered gently.